adopters, Carla, Daisy Duke, dog rescue, Flannery Oconnor, Foo Foo, former foster dogs, foster dogs, fostering, owner responsibility, returned dogs

Returned Dogs Are Inevitable

There have been so many adoptions this spring and summer. It’s a wonderful thing, but with lots and lots of adoptions come the inevitable returns.

Making a decision as momentous as adopting a dog for the rest of its life based on pictures, maybe a few videos, a foster’s notes, an adoption coordinator’s questions, and usually only a single meeting, is definitely a gamble, albeit an educated one (the same kind my brother claims he uses to win money in Vegas).

We shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed when a dog is returned. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the dog or the adopter.

What’s really remarkable, I think, is how many of the adoptions do work. The national average for returns is about 10% and OPH is consistently under that number, most likely because we are a foster-based rescue. And also because our fosters are encouraged to be absolutely transparent with potential adopters. We want them to know what they’re getting into, and we want this home to be the dog’s last.

Most returns happen because the adoption is a bad match. It could be that expectations weren’t clear, or a person made a decision with their heart without consulting their head (or their family) or sometimes it’s a chemistry thing.

Most people figure this out quickly and those dogs come back normally within a week or two. A lot of times the dog can go back to its original foster home and for them it isn’t a hard adjustment. It’s as if they were just off on a visit somewhere. There wasn’t enough time to really bond or maybe bonding was the issue, so while it’s upsetting for the adopters and disappointing for the adoption coordinator and foster, it’s really not a huge deal for the dog.

Tito is back with us after a brief adoption that was not a good fit. He trotted into the kitchen and right back into the same life he had here before he left. He’s still the same big lovable hunk who acts like an overgrown puppy. He still pulls on his leash (but he’s getting better!) and spends his days in a search for something edible. He loves all of us and anyone who happens by and you’d truly never know he ever left.

Tito (37 of 41)take 2

But sometimes, dogs are returned after a much longer time. Flannery was adopted for two months before she came back the first time, and being Flannery, it didn’t take long for her to adjust back to our world after a brief shutdown. But she was different; the dog who returned to us was a nipper and the dog we adopted out was not.


Carla, our fourth foster dog, was the first returned dog we ever fostered. She’d been adopted as a puppy and was being returned after four years. She was confused and sad, and truly mourned her people for about two weeks.


Hound dogs look sad to begin with, but Carla also had no energy, slept all day, grudgingly followed me out for walks. The dog she became a few weeks later was completely different – dragging me on her scent trails, howling up a storm on our porch, trying out every bed in the house.


We’ve fostered quite a few returned dogs since, but until recently only a handful of the 175 dogs adopted from this home had been returned. Flannery was our serial returned dog (and my kids secretly hope she is returned again, although I think she’s wormed her way firmly into the heart of her adopted dad).

I like to take returned dogs. I like to see them land back on their feet and find the family they are meant to be with. I watched it happen with Carla, Frank, Foo Foo, Vera Bradley, Whoopi, Daisy Duke, Bugs, Bo, and Rockee.

There are quite a few good things about taking returned dogs. They are almost always housebroken, they are generally in good health, and best of all, you don’t have to meet a transport at midnight to retrieve them—the returning adopter usually brings them to you.

I’ve had a rash of returns affect us lately. Mama Mia, the mother of my Broadway Babes, was returned to her foster after only a brief adoption. The reasons were fuzzy and it happened quickly, but bottomline was that it wasn’t a good match.


Bowflex, who was an excellent foster was returned and quickly adopted to a family that loves him dearly. And now Tito.

Tito (4 of 41)

This week one of my foster dogs from two years ago was returned. It has been a heart-breaking decision made by a family that loves their dog dearly and has tried nearly everything to keep her in their home. They recognize that based on her behaviors, she just is not happy there—she is anxious and rather than getting better it has steadily grown worse. I’m sure you’re thinking—two years?

Well, anyone who has stubbornly stuck with a bad relationship knows that the frog in the kettle analogy is real. You adapt and adapt and adapt until you don’t even realize that you are boiling. It broke the heart of her adopter, but was quite definitely the right thing to do.

The dog is currently with an OPH training partner going under an evaluation. If she’s deemed adoptable, we’ll move forward with a training plan and help her find the perfect forever home.

I do worry for the season of returns coming our way.

We want an adoption to be forever, but sometimes that isn’t possible. I’m not making excuses for people who give up at the first inconvenience, that is clearly not the case here. I hope that the wave of adoptions that came with COVID, will be lasting ones. I hope the adopters have committed to their dogs for the long haul and are willing to put the training and time in necessary to help a dog adjust to its new home.

Even so, with so many adoptions, statistics alone say that we will have a lot of dogs coming back in the months ahead. I’m glad I am part of a rescue organization that commits to a dog for life. We will take them back if there is any way possible. Plans are already in place in case there is a need to house overflow returned dogs at our sanctuary until foster homes open up.

At OPH, rescue is for life. That’s the way it should be. If you’d like to support the work of OPH, consider donating, especially to our sanctuary. Adoption fees do not cover the cost of saving a dog, and they certainly don’t cover the cost of sending a returned dog to a board and train facility. The rescue is saving more dogs than ever in their history during a time when many rescues are pulling back, they could truly use your support.

Many of you know that I have a new book out this month, 100 Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues. I’ll be giving a presentation on the book’s Facebook page LIVE tomorrow night, Wednesday July 29, at 8pm EDT.

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This is the presentation I had prepared to give at libraries and bookstores and anywhere else they would have me to explain why I wrote the book, what I learned, and how everyone can help. Like so many other things, those presentations have been indefinitely postponed.

trading card with Gala centerI hope you’ll join me and bring your questions! I’ll be giving away 100 Dogs & Counting trading cards to random commenters, but mostly I hope you’ll join me so you can find out how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted animals suffering and dying needlessly in our southern shelters, rescues, and pounds.

Thanks for reading!


If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

For information on me, my writing, and books, visit where you can also find more information on my new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) or on the book’s very own Facebook page and Instagram account.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit You can also hear stories of our shelter visits on our brand new podcast! Please comment, subscribe, and share wherever you get your podcasts!

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

Another Good Dog coverIf you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at

Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact:



11 thoughts on “Returned Dogs Are Inevitable”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I rescued an OES years ago who had been diagnosed with PTSD (long story short, major abuse), and foolishly thought with enough love and training I could sufficiently rehabilitate him. After 7 months and hundreds of dollars in training sessions, it became clear my home environment could not provide this poor troubled and VERY large dog the peace he needed to safely exist. It broke my heart but the rescue was great about it and after nearly 6 months were able to find him a suitable home where he lived out his life. Bottom line, the best thing for the dog is what matters most of all. Here’s hoping Tito gets another opportunity with someone that will work well for him. He sure has a sweet face.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing this.. I haven’t fostered many dogs yet – only 4
    And my second one was returned – I couldn’t take him back unfortunately because I had just adopted my fourth foster…But I feel soo protective about all my foster babies..
    I know it was a hard decision for the adopter and it also taught me a lesson not to be so fast – learning every day!
    I would love to go on fostering- but we’re relocating back to Europe (London) by the end of August – I hope I‘ll find a rescue as nice as OPH when we’re over there..
    PS: any preference from where to order your new book??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How exciting – London!! That is awesome. I just finished reading The Dogs Of Avalon which was about greyhound rescue in Ireland. I think there is a big rescue culture in Great Britain. Sorry to lose you from OPH, but thanks for fostering the ones you have!

      As far as my book, I always tell people that if you have a local bookstore, order it there first and give them your support. If not, any online retailer is fine, whatever is easiest for you! supports independent bookstores, but I’ve heard the service isn’t always so great, plus I don’t think you can leave reviews. Thanks for asking!


  3. I think one good take away from returned dogs is we get a lot of good information about how they did in a home environment. It also does give them a break from a shelter if that was where they originally came from.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That is a clear-eyed and loving view of adoption failures. At the shelter, it’s always hard to see them come back since the shelter is such a stressful environment, but it’s better than both pet and people being tremendously unhappy.
    I’m imagining that OPH gives a lot of support to their adopters, and that’s so important, especially for first-time pet owners We were so clueless when we adopted our first dog, it was nice to be able to call someone and ask questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OPH does give a ton of support to its adopters- but not everyone takes advantage of that opportunity. One thing many of us, even fosters, forget is that dogs need time to settle in a new home – they may not be comfortable being their true selves for weeks, sometimes months. I saw that first hand with my Fanny Wiggles. We are nine months in and she is only now starting to seem more comfortable here. It is so stressful for dogs to be in a shelter, but a stressful home, especially long term, is just as bad. I do believe the foster system is the answer and once we get our numbers under control, I hope it will be the future for animal shelters. Certainly, COVID is proving it can work for any shelter.


  5. Thanks for this post, Cara! There is so much pressure on people to “stick with the dog no matter what” that it’s sometimes hard for them to admit that the dog just isn’t the right dog for their family, or vice versa. And then no one his happy, including the dog. It took me a long time to learn this after I started volunteering at the animal shelter, because I used to be on of those people who were upset when a dog would be returned. (And I still am when it’s for a dumb reason.) But most often, the adopter tried their best and it’s in the best interest of all involved that the dog gets a chance to go to a home that is better suited to it. And I have to remember that at least they brought the dog back, and didn’t do something stupid like list it on Craig’s list!

    Liked by 1 person

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